Batroun deserves a shout out as one big seaside piazza.
Unease is a way of life in the Middle East these days. You would think the people are tired of it. But, “My God is better than Your God” still echoes in the backward barbarity practiced throughout the region. Yet, they don’t seem to be reading that memo here in Batroun.
Landing in Beirut and then crawling northward through rush hour traffic, I was intrigued, enthralled and mournful. To my left was the sea. No, The SEA! What makes Phoenicia and Phoenicians is their proud, elegant, and glorious history/love affair with the Mediterranean. A sun-gobbling horizon of color looking west can only affirm this. Somewhere deep in my DNA, a sense of saltwater and cedar grips me. The trees of the north will have to wait for another day, lest I lose my head literally amid the chaos that is ever so close, but seems so far away.
I glance right to be reminded of this. Bullet holes and bombed-out buildings dot the perimeter of the highway, sentinels of prime real estate that became “casas of carnage” not very long ago. Potential pulses as renovation, reconstruction, and commerce-hawking signage peer prominently from the panorama. Location, location, location. We are on the sea with a great view, in a major city, close to the airport, and at the mouth of “East meets West”. They have been trading and peddling for millennia, these people. So, one has to bet that making the deal will trump making war, thus, making peace.
We pass a military checkpoint complete with barricades, uniforms, and armed Lebanese military. Doesn’t faze me in the slightest. I think how similar it looks to the American Embassy in Rome main entrance or, for that matter, the checkpoints around the Capitol in DC. A wave, a yawn, a smile, and on we go.
Batroun welcomes me with quiet charm and spectacular weather. I sit by myself at a huge pool and it is nearing November. I have a monstrous restaurant dining room exclusively to myself and sample the famous fare from my childhood, paying almost nothing for it.
Beirut was dubbed “The Paris of the Middle East” back in the day. As I gaze, glance, and gawk around Batroun, I can see how a Monte Carlo-Vegas-Wall Street-Time Square-PGA-Club Med kind of explosion (no pun intended) could, should, and probably would happen here.
Sounds like a tall order? Hey, these are the Phoenicians. Remember to thank them for your Alphabet and Arabic Numbers. Bet on them getting it done. Also wager on their international partners seeing the chance for peace, profit, and people-friendly projects. They are returning in droves to this vortex of hustle and accomplishment because, politics be damned, this place and its populace have an indestructible denominator that combines beauty and business.
Wanna bet? I lay you VIII to V that Lebanon will be in full bloom again and soon. The Cedar seeds are here in Batroun.